What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘Inflatable Kayak’? It’s natural to be a bit skeptical. One sharp branch or a protruding rock and your day on the water is ruined, right?
Well, you may be pleasantly surprised. Inflatable kayaks are remarkably durable, versatile, and can last for several years. And depending on the damage inflicted, they can also be repaired.
They come in many different styles, like recreational, sea, touring, or even hybrid models (Learn more about the different styles of kayaks here.) You can find an inflatable boat for most uses like fishing, coastal paddling, and of course exploring lakes and rivers.
A good-quality inflatable kayak can cost several hundred dollars. Continue reading to determine if there’s an inflatable kayak in your paddling future.
Portability – The #1 Benefit Of An Inflatable Kayak
Portability is hands-down the biggest advantage of an inflatable kayak. To transport regular hard-shell kayaks, you need a rack system, a truck, an SUV, or a trailer. When deflated, inflatable kayaks are compact and lightweight and can usually fit inside a car or small SUV. As an added bonus, they take up much less storage space at home too.
Inflatable Kayaks Are Rugged
That rock or stick would have to be pretty sharp to puncture the fabric of a modern inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks are constructed using a tough outer fabric coated in rubber or plastic as a waterproof barrier.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Least expensive. The most common material used. PVC is usually bonded to nylon for extra tear resistance. UV rays will degrade the fabric over time so it’s best to store the kayak out of the sunlight.
Nitrylon: Mid-range price. A combination of nitrile synthetic rubber which is more eco-friendly than PVC and natural rubber bonded to polyester fabric. It is tougher and more puncture resistant than PVC.
Hypalon: Most expensive. More UV resistant than PVC. It’s also more abrasion resistant than both PVC and Nitrylon. Some inflatable kayaks will combine PVC with a Hypalon coating to save on costs.
An important feature that helps avert total disaster when your inflatable kayak is punctured while on the water is that these boats have a rubber bladder, most with multiple chambers. Due to this innovation in design, the boat stays afloat even if a chamber is compromised.
Choosing A Kayak Length
Kayaks range in length from roughly 6’ to 14’ and sometimes longer. Length influences how a kayak handles in the water.
Short kayaks (under 12′):
Short kayaks are best suited to rougher waters. They are more agile for river paddling. Overall, they are easier to maneuver, but move slower in flat water and are more difficult to steer straight. They are fun boats for play and rough waters.
Long kayaks (12’+)
Longer kayaks tend to be more stable and have more room for gear. They’re ideally suited for longer paddling days. These are also a favorite with anglers who want more stability on open water and more room for tackle. Longer kayaks are more efficient, faster, and track more easily.
Shape Of The Hull
The shape of the hull – the “rocker” – helps with steering because the bow and stern of your kayak are less submerged than the center of your boat. So when you start to turn, there’s less resistance. When you set your kayak on flat ground, you will notice that the bow and stern are lifted off the ground.
You want a more pronounced rocker in rougher water to cut through water, track straighter, and maneuver a turn more easily.
When day touring, you want a flatter bottom to help minimize zigzagging.
Inflatable kayaks are kind of notorious for bad seats but that’s not a rule. You’ll find plenty of boats with great seats out of the box but remember that you get what you pay for.
Fortunately, you can get around a bad seat in most cases. Many inflatable kayaks have seats that can be easily replaced with aftermarket options!
When buying your kayak, if the seat looks questionable make sure it’s at least removable. If it doesn’t hold up to your needs you can always swap it out later and some aftermarket seats are just downright luxurious so I recommend it!
Note: If you choose a seat with a high back, pair it with a seat-friendly PFD or life jacket. A bulky lifejacket stuck between you and your seat is never comfortable.
They are inflated using a foot or hand pump and can require as little as five minutes to inflate. High-pressure inflation makes the boat rigid. Even with a grown adult standing or sitting in the kayak, there is no buckling.
The downside Of Inflatable Kayaks?
Inflatable kayaks are not indestructible. When multiple chambers are compromised, your boat will take on water. And if enough water is getting into one big hole, your boat could sink. As noted above, the construction material of modern inflatable kayaks is extremely durable and can withstand many bumps and pokes, but there is still the possibility that your boat could sink.
To prevent mold and mildew build-up, you will need to make sure that your kayak is completely dry before you fold it up and store it. This is a trade-off for ease of portability and storage.
Though many of the inflatable kayaks perform exceptionally well, they typically don’t perform quite as well as their hard-shell cousins.
So if you think an inflatable kayak might be right for you, here are a few recommended models:
Hobie Mirage i9s
Let’s start with a luxury inflatable kayak: the Hobie Mirage i9s. Like Hobie’s hard-shell Mirage, the i9s features a built-in rudder enabling accurate and effortless steering, even in rough or windy conditions. The cargo area is very spacious and has several tie-downs to keep your gear safe in the off-chance you capsize your boat. Simply secure your gear with rope, bungee cords, or carabiners. This kayak is actually quite stable, so it’s unlikely that you will tip.
The Hobie Mirage i9s comes with a case that has wheels, making it a breeze to transport. By inflatable kayak standards, the i9s is heavy, weighing in at 41 pounds. However, the weight includes a very comfortable, adjustable and removable seat.
The i9s is 9′ long, the longest of the three models reviewed here. This kayak will cost you over $2,500, but if you are looking for luxury, this may be your boat.
The Intex Challenger K1 is a great choice for those new to kayaking. This sporty 9-foot kayak made of rugged vinyl is suitable for paddling calm waters of lakes or slow-moving rivers. The Intex Challenger is budget-friendly, making it one of the best entry-level kayaks for people new to the sport. As a bonus, it comes with an aluminum paddle and a high output air pump for easy and quick inflation.
At 23.9 lbs, this kayak is lightweight and compact. It features a removable skeg that facilitates steering and an adjustable, inflatable seat with a backrest for comfort. Maximum Weight Capacity: 220 lbs.
Sevylor Quikpak K5
The Sevylor Quikpak K5 was built with beginners in mind. With the K5′ super easy 5-minute set-up, you will be on the water in no time flat. The K5 measures 10′ long and weighs in at 25.5 pounds. It’s a lightweight option with solid construction that can handle some abuse. This is a multi-chambered kayak, making it more difficult to sink. If one chamber is punctured or tears, the other chambers remain inflated, allowing the boat to stay afloat.
As an added bonus, the Quikpak K5 has a spray cover that helps keep your legs dry and shielded from sunlight — a huge plus for anyone prone to sunburns. Priced around $250, the K5 is a solid entry-level option.
Advanced Elements – AdvancedFrame Sports Kayak
Advanced Elements has a line-up of AdvancedFrame kayak, a hybrid of a folding frame kayak and an inflatable kayak. They feature built-in aluminum ribs in the bow and stern enabling them to cut through the water like a hot knife through butter. Their trackability rivals hard-shell kayaks. The stern acts as a skeg further increasing the tracking performance. So if you already have experience with a standard recreational kayak and are looking to explore further, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sports Kayak may be a good option.
Even though the Advanced Frame Sports Kayak looks and feels like a traditional hard-shell kayak, it can fold down to fit in your car’s trunk. And despite being an inflatable – this is a very stable kayak that is difficult to flip. At 10.5′, it’s long enough to performs well. And at 26 pounds, it’s lightweight and portable. And as a bonus, it has a high-support, adjustable padded seat. This versatile kayak performs well in nearly any water condition making it a terrific mid-range option.
Advanced Elements – AirFusion Evo Kayak
No matter what your price point is, there is an inflatable kayak out there for you.
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